There is no better offensive weapon for Tennessee football this year than Ty Chandler. The Volunteers can’t misuse him like they did Alvin Kamara.
When Tennessee football was at its best in the 1990s and early 2000s, the Vols always found a way to get the ball to their elite running backs in any way possible. It almost became Running Back U like Wide Receiver U.
At the time, running backs would head to Knoxville knowing they would have to wait their turn to play. But waiting their turn was worth it, even if it wasn’t until they were a senior, because they knew if they were good enough they’d get a lot of carries. Travis Stephens even took a redshirt just so he could be the Vols’ feature back in 2001 rather than transfer.
However, the story of Tennessee football in recent years has been grossly underusing its running backs. Butch Jones became infamous for not using Alvin Kamara enough in 2015 and 2016, and after two All-Pro NFL years, that decision only looks worse.
Last year was not much better, though. Despite a horrendous offensive line, the Vols had one elite offensive weapon. And his name was Ty Chandler. For the year, Chandler had only 630 yards rushing. But he averaged five and a half yards a carry and scored seven total touchdowns.
In fact, Chandler became the first UT running back in history to have three receiving touchdowns in three straight games. Tyson Helton deserves credit for finding ways to incorporate Chandler into the offense beyond just running behind a horrible offensive line.
However, Helton also should be blamed for not going to Chandler enough. He only averaged nine and a half carries game, and when you factor in carries, receptions and returns, he had fewer than 12 touches a game.
Just for context, Jones was raked through the coals for Kamara only averaging 14 touches a game. While he did average fewer carries, it was only slightly less than nine, he nearly averaged three receptions a game and would also have at least one kick return a game.
And that was amidst the Vols being loaded with offensive weapons, including a veteran quarterback who could run, an offensive line, and multiple proven elite receivers. They had none of that last year.
So Chandler was actually more grossly underused than Kamara. And that’s a shame because his talents, while maybe not on Kamara’s level, are pretty impressive. Helton’s biggest failure was the final game last season.
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To open the second half against the Vanderbilt Commodores, Chandler had a 75-yard touchdown run, cutting the lead to 17-7. He would get two more touches the rest of the way and only three more plays designed for him. So Chandler finished that game with seven carries for 88 yards.
That was embarrassing. Tennessee football got a steal this year by luring Jim Chaney away from the Georgia Bulldogs to replace Helton. Chaney showed in Athens his ability to maximize the yards of elite backs, and there’s no doubt he’ll look to do the same with Chandler.
It’s understandable for Jeremy Pruitt to want to run three to four running backs. Jeremy Banks is a valuable power back. Tim Jordan has proven himself to be reliable, and Carlin Fils-Aime may make a push to be an impact player.
Still, Chandler is the guy they need to rely on. He should be the focal point of the whole offense, even beyond Jarrett Guarantano and the elite receiving corps. Nobody is a more proven offensive weapon outside of Jauan Jennings, but Chandler can do more than even Jennings. So he should be a heavy focus for Tennessee football. Anything else would be a major problem.